Did all of this really happen? (An NFL playoff recap)

January 14, 2008 – 6:15 pm by Hickey

Raise your hand if you expected the following things to happen during your lifetime:

– Norv Turner just one win away from the Super Bowl
– Billy Volek leading a team to the AFC Championship Game
– Eli Manning playing further into a season than Peyton
– Ryan Grant running for over 200 yards in a playoff game. Heck, in any game.
– Terrell Owens sobbing in defense of his quarterback
– The fact a team is still undefeated, and took a back seat to all of these items in terms of intrigue for one weekend.

Needless to say, it was a wild, weird weekend in the NFL playoffs. And it more than made up for what may have been one of the lamest wild card weekends ever. Here’s the game-by-game recap of my random observations.

Chargers vs. Colts
Rarely have I been more confident in the certainty of a team’s victory than I was in the Colts this weekend.

Back when the Colts and Chargers met in San Diego this season, the Bolts nearly choked away all of a 23-point lead against the injury-depleted Colts, who had to play with their JV squad. Playing at home with a nearly full hand against an extremely banged-up Antonio Gates and with the mind of Tony Dungy against Norv Turner, taking the Colts was pretty much a no-brainer. Throw in the factors of what happened during the game — LaDanian Tomlinson and Phillip Rivers going down with injuries — the result was even more of a foregone conclusion.

Yet Billy Volek, Michael Turner and some Nigerian guy from Boise State proved all of us wrong in one of the guttiest playoff performances of all time. I imagine Chargers fans have to put this right next to the Kellen Winslow Game as the standard for all-time franchise performances. Here are a couple things that we learned from this game:

Norv Turner can coach. I can’t believe that I just typed that. But as hard as everyone has been on Turner over the years, I guess it is finally time to give the man his props. Despite injuries to the most vital players on their offense, the Chargers never deviated from their gameplan. And they showed that they have developed the depth to deal with these situations.

Karma counts. The Colts fate was sealed at the end of the third quarter, when fans booed a 14-year old girl from New Hampshire who won the national Punt, Pass and Kick competition because she was wearing a Patriots jersey. Believe me, I hate the Pats as much as the next guy. But booing a 14-year old girl? That’s pretty low. Props to her for at least cracking a smile and laughing.

– Phillip Rivers is apparently a punk-ass bitch. I always respected Phillip Rivers as being a mature, God-fearing type. The guy was married before he even graduated college. At that point in time, my longest relationship was three months long. (Now that I’ve graduated college, I’m capable of forming relationships that last as long as six months.)

Yet Rivers was talking shit to Colts fans as he walked off the field and went into the locker room to learn that he wasn’t playing the rest of the game. And he taunted the fans again after the Chargers sealed up the win. Coming off the heels of the Broncos incident, it is clear that Mr. Rivers has a completely different persona when he gets on the field. Fortunately, at least he wouldn’t do anything as classless as making fun of Shawne Merriman’s sack dance. (Yes, that sarcasm is as thick as cream cheese on a bagel, in case you had any doubts).

Cowboys vs. Giants
If Norv Turner could reach a conference championship game, one had to hold out the same hopes for Wade Phillips. But even in a crazy year for the NFL, nothing that freakish was about to happen.

I can’t say that this development was particularly surprising. The Giants were the one road team that I predicted to win this weekend. (I guess I sort of thought the Seahawks had a chance too, but we won’t go into that). For one, it’s pretty difficult to beat a team thrice in one season. Even a Steve Walsh-led Bears team was able to upset the Vikings in the ’94 playoffs. And if you had Jessica Simpson’s jugs in your face, do you really think you’d be focused on football? Right.

Anyway, a couple of observations from this one. First off all, congrats to Eli Manning. This guy gets more crap than anyone not named Rex Grossman. (And given the way he held the Chargers hostage in the draft, perhaps it isn’t unwarranted). But the mark of a champion is the ability to rise up when people are doubting you. Impossibly, he has found a way to make the watch ad that states “Eli Manning is unstoppable, just like this watch” less hilarious.

And Terrell Owens’ post-game sobfest? Something tells me that Jeff Garcia and every person in the Philadelphia Eagles organization was more than a little amused.

Packers vs. Seahawks
When the Packers immediately fell behind 14-0, my inner Bear fan couldn’t help but crack a smile. Not only was Green Bay going to lose twice in a season to the subpar Bears, but they were going to get blown out of Lambeau in the playoffs. There was no better way to make a bitter season worthwhile.

Then, it starts snowing. Heavily. This is what a playoff game is supposed to be. Hmm… wouldn’t it be cool if they had another game at Lambeau next week? The Packers start scoring at will. Brett Favre goes back to his old bag of tricks, throwing underhand passes from his knees. And Ryan Grant! runs for 200 yards, looking like a cagey veteran as he carefully measures his steps past the slipping and sliding Seahawk defense.

Back when the season started, the running game was the Packers one obvious weakness. Now, it has somehow turned into a strength behind Grant. And given the choices remaining in the playoffs, it’s hard for even a Bear fan to root against Favre’s renaissance going all the way to the Super Bowl. Especially if it gets him to retire.

Patriots vs. Jaguars
If there was anyone left in the NFL that had a chance to beat the Patriots, it was the Jaguars. They have a solid defense. Two great running backs. And an underrated quarterback who can move on his feet and doesn’t make mistakes. The tools for controlling the tempo and keeping the Patriots in check were in their hands.

Just not the hands of Dennis Northcutt. Northcutt dropped a crucial third down pass late in the third quarter, forcing the Jags to settle for a field goal that cut the score to 21-17 rather than tying the game. (It seems clear that for Jacksonville to overtake the Colts in the AFC South, wide receiver is the position they should address in the offseason. The Bears’ Bernard Berrian might make a good fit via free agency. Or they could draft a big guy like James Hardy out of Indiana.)

However, despite not punching the ball into the end zone on that possession, the Jags still had a chance to take the momentum in the game. The field goal set up a perfect opportunity for a surprise onside kick. Think about it. In the third quarter, such a move had the potential to catch even Bill Belichick’s best spies off guard.

And if you somehow don’t recover the kick and the Patriots get the ball at your 40-yard line, what difference does it make? They can score from anywhere on the field. Any chance you have to keep the ball out of their hands, you have to take. Here’s hoping Norv Turner checks us out. And Belichick’s spies don’t.

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  1. 9 Responses to “Did all of this really happen? (An NFL playoff recap)”

  2. That TO clip was too bizarre. Since when has he cared about anyone other than himself?

    By Kevin Hayward on Jan 15, 2008

  3. Even though it turned out to be true, this is a common misconception:

    “For one, it’s pretty difficult to beat a team thrice in one season.”

    Going in to this game, teams with a 2-0 record in the regular season against their playoff opponent were 11-6 (now 11-7). I guess its not that difficult for the majority of teams out there to pull this off, eh? Its just difficult for overachieving teams like the Cowboys!

    Good call on the Jags picking up Hardy if he is available to them. They could really use a reliable WR (even though the guys they have drafted are starting to look at least OK) and when I saw Hardy live this year he was unbelievable. The other team knew he was getting the ball on every play and still couldn’t stop it. He could be a force in the NFL.

    By Anonymous on Jan 15, 2008

  4. great post… one minor point. about the jaguars receiving woes, you said:

    The Bears’ Bernard Berrian might make a good fit via free agency.

    berrian’s a hell of a speedster, but he drops a fare share thrown his way. the jags have athletes at receiver, but they need to find guys with the best hands available, real football players. a guy with decent size, willing to work the middle, and won’t drop most passes especially when it counts. i think it’s safe to say the matt jones/northcutt route hasn’t worked for them. wilford and williams are decent, but they still need a true number one.

    By cian on Jan 15, 2008

  5. Dude, I was at the Colts-Bolts game and the crowd didn’t boo the 14 year old girl. The boos were simply because she was representing the Pats and had on a NE jersey. No one was booing her little achievements. So tired of that weak-ass excuse.

    By Bickett on Jan 15, 2008

  6. i’m really not sure why everyone was so high on the colts. i mean, before last year weren’t peyton manning and tony dungy referred to as playoff failures (i’m not saying it’s fair, but it’s true). for the past 4-5 years, the colts were the most talented team in football and didn’t make it over the hump. so a colts v. norv turner matchup yields a matchup that to me is more of a toss-up than people thought. same can be said for the cowboys-giants. i mean, wade phillips and tom coughlin? i’m a giants fan and i was happy they ran the ball for back-to-back three-and-outs in the last 5 minutes. better to watch a wade phillips team make a mistake than to try to make a play and commit a turnover. the nfl…..it’s fan-tastic!

    By Anonymous on Jan 15, 2008

  7. One more quibble. The last thing the Jaguars should do is draft a tall WR in the first round. They’ve tried it three times already, and it hasn’t worked yet.

    By Brian on Jan 15, 2008

  8. To anon — thanks for the 11-7 stat. If Fox Sports actually knew how to put together a telecast, they might have shown that number on the screen at some point, unless they did while I was in the john, in which case I apologize. But based on those numbers, I’d still say it isn’t easy to beat a team three times in one year. However, as you noted, it isn’t remarkably hard either.(All cases of the Steelers beating the Browns thrice being discounted, because they’re the Browns.)

    To Bickett, looks like we struck a raw nerve. I’m pretty sure that was still a 14-year old girl you were booing, not Tom Brady or Tedy Bruschi. Doesn’t matter what she was wearing. She’s a 14-year old girl. She was supposed to be applauded for her little achievement.

    By Hick Flick on Jan 15, 2008

  9. The thing about the “it’s hard to beat a team 3 times in one year” quip is, it doesn’t apply to whether the Cowboys could beat the Giants, or whether the Titans could beat the Jaguars in ’99. Going into Sunday, the Cowboys had already beaten the Giants two times.

    It’s hard to flip a coin 3 times and have it come up heads every time. But once you’ve flipped it twice and gotten two heads, there’s a 50% chance that third flip will also be a head.

    Another way of looking at it is, the 7 teams who won twice and then lost failed to beat one team three times in one season. But so did the 11 teams who lost twice and then lost again, and so did the 7 teams who lost twice and then won.

    By solarjetman on Jan 15, 2008

  10. They weren’t saying BOO, they were saying congraOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOlations.

    By Patrick on Jan 16, 2008

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